Sunday

February 17th, 2019

The Nation

Chants and thunderous applause from Republicans in House chamber are a reminder of Trump's continued popularity with the party's base

 Robert Costa

By Robert Costa The Washington Post

Published Feb. 6, 2019

 Chants and thunderous applause from Republicans in House chamber are a reminder of Trump's continued popularity with the party's base

  


 

Toni L. Sandys for The Washington Post
WASHINGTON - First came the Senate's rebuke of President Donald Trump's plan to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. Then came warnings from top GOP senators that they might vote to block the president from using an emergency order to divert federal funds to a border wall.

But Tuesday night's State of the Union address, with thunderous applause and gushing accolades from Republicans, offered a reminder that, for all their policy differences and frustrations, the GOP is still very much the party of Trump.

Republicans erupted in chants of "USA! USA!" There were hearty ovations as Trump boasted of repealing much of President Barack Obama's health-care law and spoke darkly of "mass illegal immigration" and "our very dangerous southern border." Same for his disavowal of socialism.

It was typical of how Republicans have responded to Trump throughout his presidency: with reverence and roars despite the surplus of controversies, scandals and fury.

"Where I have differences with him, I'll tend to talk about them in private," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is up for reelection next year. "There are clearly some differences of view between him and some of my colleagues. But it's not a crack because we are all in the same boat."

Cornyn added that he and others who have grumbled about aspects of Trump's agenda - he once said Trump's call for a massive wall "makes absolutely no sense" and instead argued for bolstered fencing in key spots - are interested in having the president join them on the campaign trail, a testament to the president's sway with the voters whom Cornyn and others count as their base.

Tensions could grow in the coming days as Republicans scramble to avert another politically bruising government shutdown and urge Trump to resist using his emergency powers to bypass Congress and begin building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border - and in the perilous year ahead. There is no way to know how Republicans will react if and when special counsel Robert Mueller issues a report on his inquiry into alleged coordination between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

And even Tuesday night, there was tempered applause from GOP lawmakers when the president spoke of drawing "endless wars" in the Middle East to a close.

Yet the scene in the House chamber demonstrated that the appetite for a dramatic break with Trump over his conduct and policies remains limited for now, with most Republican lawmakers more inclined to nudge the combative president than to confront him, knowing he retains a deep well of support among the party's faithful primary voters and activists.

Glancing toward Republicans, Trump assured them that an "economic miracle is taking place in the United States - and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations," a reference to the Mueller probe and congressional investigations being led by newly empowered House Democrats.

Many Republicans stood and applauded Trump at that aside, as if they were assuring him that they, too, would stand by him whatever comes.

Standing before Vice President Mike Pence, who is close to the religious conservative community, Trump went on to ask Congress to pass legislation to curb third-trimester abortions.

To the extent that Republicans have broken with Trump in recent weeks, many GOP lawmakers described this development as a trial period on Tuesday, seeing how far they could go politically in this moment.

"You've got everyone figuring out how much elbow room they have," former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said. "The 35-day shutdown prompted that. That said, they know it's his party and probably won't go too far afield."

Trump continues to garner strong approval from within his own party, with 87 percent of Republicans approving of his performance in a CNN poll released Monday, although surveys show he remains largely unpopular with the general electorate.

Some potential 2020 primary challengers are eyeing bids and sensing vulnerability as Trump struggles within the vexing new confines of divided Washington.

Former Massachusetts governor William Weld recently changed his party registration from Libertarian to Republican as he considers a possible 2020 run against Trump, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has said he is "listening" to calls for him to jump into the White House race.

"The cheers and big smiles on the GOP side are a reminder that you shouldn't take politicians' cheers and big smiles too seriously," tweeted conservative commentator William Kristol, a Trump critic. "Most Republican members of Congress would be thrilled if Trump went away, but they're too timid for now to do much of anything about it."

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2-ranking Republican in the Senate, called his colleagues "entrepreneurial" these days.

"The president has some different views and shakes things up a little bit, and, obviously, we all have to adapt to that," Thune said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a top Trump supporter who confers with him regularly about the dynamics driving the party in Congress, dismissed the latest examples of GOP fissures with the president as "senators attempting to flex their muscles

and show they are independent-minded," and a natural reaction from the party's hawks who have long supported foreign intervention. "These senators want to talk foreign policy when they're in D.C., but they know when they're back home that most of their voters agree with the president that it's time to get out of these endless wars," Meadows said. "The president knows that, too."

Meadows added, "Are there people who complain? Sure. But I get asked five times a day if I can help a lot of these people get a presidential visit or an endorsement."

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

(COMMENT, BELOW)

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles